The novelists still haven’t gotten it right

Each time I hear of a new work of fiction featuring a conservator as a character, I think, “Maybe this time they’ll get it right”. I had high hopes for Cathleen Schine’s novel, “They May Not Mean To, But They Do”. Before I started reading the book, I knew that its’ protagonist was not the beautiful 25 year old working on valuable Old Master paintings in a famous Italian museum while being romanced by a wealthy and dashing man usually found in works of fiction that feature conservators, but rather an older woman working in a small underfunded and under staffed museum trying to cope with family crises and keep up with her work. Real life, I thought.
As a mother of two small children (ca. 1960), the protagonist Joy Berman volunteered two days a week in a small museum dedicated to the immigrant experience on the Lower East Side of New York City. When her family suffered financial setbacks, she took a full time salaried job there as the assistant to the conservator. The conservator encouraged her to go back to school. So far this seems plausible. Joy needed the income and could not stop working to go to school full time, so she cut back to part time work, spent years earning her PhD, and was hired by that same museum as its conservator. Now, I’m a bit confused. A PhD in what and how does that PhD prepare her for hands- on conservation bench work?
What is most upsetting to me is the way Joy’s job seems to have little place in her life. When she has been away from it for months (granted due to illness) giving not a thought to what is happening to the collection in her absence, she returns expecting that all museum activity concerning her department stopped awaiting her return. Where is the professionalism of the conservators we know?
Yes, it is a comic novel. But fiction is the means through which a large part of the general public learns about conservators and what they do at work. And the novelists still haven’t gotten it right.